One of Beyond Civility’s first initiatives to improve governance was to invite a bi-partisan group of approximately 20 local elected and civic leaders to explore together the neurological and social barriers to constructive dialogue between people who view each other as adversaries. The morning was structured much like a class, led by a communication professor, in which various communication techniques were explained and demonstrated. Several versions of workshops followed until the current, revised format was developed in 2013.
Today, select bi-partisan groups of fifteen to twenty business, media and government leaders, with direct or indirect involvement in local politics, spend three half days together developing and practicing strategies for conducting difficult conversations successfully. Communication experts still facilitate the sessions and present the latest in brain research and communication theories, but participants are incorporated as experts themselves and participate in teaching as well as learning. Perhaps the core value of the meetings comes from sharing specific communication challenges and brainstorming solutions by the participants themselves and, of course, from the relationships formed in the process.
Plans are underway to extend workshop opportunities to civic and governmental boards that sometimes face fractious internal deliberations and contentiously expressed public opinion.